Birds and Wildfires: You Can Help


Last year we talked about wildfires as "a troubling reality in California that seems to be getting worse." This year, worse has arrived.

Left: Massive wildfire (Audubon Society)

The myriad fires burning across the state and the smoke hanging over us are daily reminders of how bad the situation has become. We can retreat to the shelter of our air-conditioned homes, but birds have no such respite.  

But there is a lot you can do to help birds.

What do birds do when wildfires break out? No surprise here: They fly away. In the Western forests that U.S. Forest Service research biologist Vicki Saab studies, birds evolved alongside fire and flee in the face of conflagrations. “Direct mortality is not a big concern,” Saab says.

But flying away is just the first step to surviving wildfires. Their normal food sources may be in flames. Biologists say the next few months will be particularly good times to put out food and water for birds, particularly near burn areas.  You also might have a pleasant surprise.

“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard from people that they never saw a certain species of bird at their feeders until there was a big fire nearby,” says Andrea Jones, Audubon California’s director of bird conservation. Also, “The birds migrating through are going to need some help.”

Besides food birds need a source of water. The seeps and streams they used to visit are dry or covered with ash. A bird bath, preferably with moving water and scattered stones where they can perch, can be a life saver. Don’t forget to refresh the water regularly.

A few bushes and trees where they can shelter may bring birds you have never seen before to your backyard. Enjoy them, knowing that your shrubbery may be their lifeline.

If birds can survive the next few months, these blazes can be beneficial. A little disturbance to a habitat can be a good thing for many species. In the dry, mixed-conifer forests Saab studies, most wildfires, even intense ones, burn unevenly, leaving behind a mosaic of habitat patches. “Fire definitely benefits a lot of bird species,” Saab says. “It’s not all doom and gloom.”

Wild Birds Unlimited will answer any questions you have about how to provide the food, water and shelter local birds will need to survive after the flames die down. Call us at 424-272-9000.

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